4 Ways to Make Money on Real Estate Investments

Many real estate professionals use their experience in buying and selling properties to finance a comfortable retirement. "As real estate professionals, we're uniquely qualified to implement various investment strategies and to see opportunities that many people are never exposed to. Those who don't participate are missing a golden opportunity," says Daniel Bohlke of Bell-Key Properties Inc. in Hampton, Va. Consider these real estate investment strategies.

1. Buy and hold for rental income. For the last 14 years, Bohlke and his business partner-wife, Karen, have been systematically buying well-located single-family homes at or slightly below the current median sale price for their area—from $80,000 to $120,000. Most are acquired by assuming existing mortgages of former owners or through owner financing. Once the properties are paid off, they generate about a 7.5 percent to 8 percent annual rate of return. That means a $100,000 house that is paid for should produce about $7,500 to $8,000 a year in spendable cash flow after paying real estate taxes, insurance, maintenance, management, and other fees.

"You need just $1 million in paid-for real estate—or 10 homes costing $100,000 each—to produce a real retirement income of $75,000 to $80,000 per year," Bohlke explains. "It self-adjusts upward with inflation, so you won’t be living on a fixed income. And as the properties increase in value, so does your net worth.”

2. Buy, hold, and eventually sell. Another strategy used by Dan Bohlke is what he calls “the real estate garden concept." Periodic, sequential investing involves acquiring properties at the rate of one or two per year and then systematically reselling them after 12 to 15 years. "The soil is your local real estate market, the seeds are the properties you acquire, and the fruit is rental and sale proceeds," he explains. "When your crop matures after 12 to 15 years, you can start selling the properties each year in the order of their purchase, using a portion of the proceeds of each sale to reseed your garden (acquire more properties) and using the remainder to live on in retirement."

With this approach, two properties acquired per year and sold after 15 years should produce a perpetual income stream of more than $100,000 a year, even after setting aside enough money to continue acquiring two properties per year.

Another choice is to sell off half the properties you've acquired over the years and use the sale proceeds to pay off the other half. This would create a cash flow from the remaining paid-for properties as in the buy-and-hold strategy above.

3. Buy and resell. Real estate professionals often have the advantage of recognizing changing markets or houses with untapped potential and are able to capitalize by buying low and selling high. Eric Goosen, Goosen Realty Services, St. Clair Shores, Mich., buys two-to-four-unit rental buildings. Because he lives at each property, Goosen’s often able to put only 10 percent down, as opposed to 40 percent or more for investment property. Often he holds the property for two years, so he can take advantage of the $250,000 capital gains exemption on the sale of a personal residence to avoid a portion of the taxes on the sale. Goosen also renovates the properties to increase their value.

4. Build and sell. Developing properties isn’t for everyone, but your market knowledge often helps you identify up-and-coming areas where in-fill development is justified.

In New Orleans, Bill and GiGi Burk of Burk Realty use a computer-based analysis program he developed to determine the highest cost-per-square-foot price the market will bear. He then compares that cost to the actual estimates for buying land and completing construction and determines if he can sell the property for a high enough return (15 percent to 25 percent or more) to justify the risk. Equally tough is paperwork and patience needed to obtain permits and local zoning approvals. Downtimes in the market are a great time to execute a develop-and-sell strategy, says Bill Burk. “We’ll be ready when the market comes back.”

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